My friend made me join The Harare book Club after attending their monthly book review session. He could not stop boasting about meeting Novuyo Rosa Tshuma in one of the sessions. He described her as “full of fire”. After joining the book club, I had to read her book in retrospect. And well I was impressed! Novuyo writes so easily about some apposite issues in the history of Zimbabwe.
Within minutes of going through the first 10 pages of Novuyo’s debut Novel, I was hooked. I instantly fell in love with her use of languages. Her sentences are witty and powerful. She writes without putting so much effort.
Zamani, a 24-year-old man, is on a mission to convince his landlord and wife to be his surrogate parents narrates the story.
The story follows the disappearance of Bukhosi a young man, during a secessionist rally in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Through this rally the protesters want to form a Ndebele republic named Mthwakazi, after the famous precolonial kingdom. Their revolt is fuelled by the massacre of thousands of Ndebele people in 1983. This massacre, referred to as Gukurahundi meaning “the early rain that washes away the chaff before the spring shoots” mirrors the history of Zimbabwe, and it is the central subject in the flow of the story. Bukhosi is reported missing after the police pounce on the protesters.
The way Novuyo confronts, the subject of “Gukurahundi in her novel has so much depth and ‘thick descriptions’ of the uncultured brutality in Matabeleland. She approaches it with caution but she does not hide her ire.
In the novel the subjects of the war of liberation and Gukurahundi are explored from a family perspective. Novuyo brings out how the wars displaced families in Zimbabwe and how Gukurahundi destroyed families and disregarded culture in Matabeleland.
In Zimbabwe, the dead are revered, and culturally stipulated burial rites have to be followed when one dies. And from time to time relatives of the dead can visit the graves and perform some rituals to honor the dead. However, these two wars never gave way for such to happen, people were buried in mass graves and some burnt alive. Hence, Zamani keeps searching for a family to belong.
Through the witty, treacherous narrator, Novuyo adventurously teases out the complex dynamics of family in the Zimbabwean context.
“How could it just be me and him? Where were the intertwining branches of our family tree, those boughs that should have hung heavy with the fruit of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces?” questions Zamani.
In the Zimbabwean culture, as most African societies, family is not just parents and siblings, it extends to aunts, uncles nieces and other extended family members and all are equally important. Families are close knit and they look out for each other, this explains the narrator’s obsession with making his Landlord Abednego Mlambo his surrogate father, to subsequently call the Mlambos his family after losing his only surviving Uncle.
The author’s reference to real occasions in history is quite interesting, she uses dark humor to comment on salient subjects of Gukurahundi, the war of independence and the political situation. Commenting on the alteration of histories to suit political agenda’s in Zimbabwe she says,
“There is no such thing as truth mfana! Truth is optics. And there are so many options out there, these days it’s all about choosing your flavor. You like your truth blackberry-cherry or you like it lemon-lime? There is even a zero-calorie truth!”
Novuyo takes us into history through present happenings like the disappearance of Bukhosi, she uses that as a window to dig deep into the historical anomalies. In her defense she says,
“There is no better way of gaining possession of yourself than chewing the bones of the mind over the question, who am I?” through her narrator Zamani.
The question she raises is a pertinent one in understanding both the nation’s ‘hi-story’, in this story Zamani’s ‘hi-story’ and consequently the readers own ‘hi-story’.
Novuyo explores the history of Zimbabwe starting with the arrival of Cecil Rhodes, through to the leadership of King Lobengula and Queen Lozikeyi, and on to the Ian Smith years as prime minister and the war of independence, and finally to independence and beyond.
An interesting Character in the book is Thandi. Thandi, Abedinego’s lover back then before she married Ma Agnes. Thandi the revolutionary and fiery one who ends up being killed mercilessly by the agents of the new Zimbabwe. What I love about Thandi is the fact that she was a force, a powerful young woman who had a promising future. I love her encounter with Abednego after the play where she declares her interests to join the struggle she reinforces that Women played an equally important role in the liberation struggle. She says,
‘Why not? There are many women in the struggle, birthing the struggle, feeding the struggle, carrying the struggle, nursing and wiping the buttocks of the struggle. I can’t stand living like this anymore.’
In this powerful statement about #Womandla (A Zulu phrase coined to refer to Women power), Thandi challenges cultural stereotypes and beliefs on the role of women in society where women are expected to stay at home and do nothing in politics, she speaks about the struggle so passionately, it is so refreshing.
Novuyo generously explores a mix masala of issues, from family relations, marriage, culture, politics, violence and she compresses the history of Zimbabwe, its pains, secrets, cardinal sins, victories and losses in one beautiful flowing story using witty, devious and everyday characters. The narrative makes you just want to read the whole book in one go.